I have been going around with a smile on my face all day. Why? Because today I saved a tree. A big, beautiful linden in my home town. Yes, utility wires thread through its branches, but it has so far avoided becoming entangled.
It stands lined up with two other mature lindens on the tree lawn in front of a house on Euclid Avenue, the nicer part of town. Its diameter is large enough that I am far from being able to touch my fingers together when I wrap my arms around it.
It could be that I care about this tree in part for sentimental reasons. Growing up, I had a friend who lived in the house, and there were parties… well, suffice it to say the lindens stood there back then, though they were of course a bit less impressive.
A new homeowner contacted the Village to say he was worried about the tree. A landscaping company examined it and – surprise, surprise – said it was a hazard and had to be removed. Tree companies, counterintuitively, always seem eager to cut down trees, especially when they can convince some responsible but naïve resident who worries that a big old tree might crash onto his house in the dead of night. Tree removal is tree companies’ bread and butter.
My town has a lot of people who like trees. It’s a long-time Tree City USA, with a conservation-minded municipal government and many citizens who are dyed-in-the-wool green. We have an active Tree Preservation Board (at the moment I chair it). All of it couldn’t necessarily equate to keeping this particular tree alive. It turns out the other Tree Board members also thought that perhaps this tree was on its way out. It featured a burl and a cavity. Why rock the boat?
While birds and other critters love cavities in trunks, humans can be very afraid of a hole in a tree. People, compartmentalization is a thing, okay? According to what tree people call CODIT (compartmentalization of decay in trees, of course), when a tree is wounded it begins to protect itself by slowing or preventing the spread of disease and decay by forming “walls” around the wounded area. Suffice it to say that the walls run in every direction, ingeniously. So a tree can live and prosper with a hole, even a big hole, in its gut.
I called up my friend, a brainy DEC forester, who told me that while the state is not permitted to conduct such evaluations, he would take a look. There was indeed some decay, he observed, describing the linden as a “high-value” tree. Get a licensed consultant to do a level 3 Tree Risk Assessment, he said. I appealed (nice word for my continued agitation) to the Village. Finally, finally, they brought in their favored professional arborist, an impartial expert who put a stop to all the funny stuff and said the tree must stay.
Boat rocking doesn’t always work. I recently lost a battle to save trees that were being removed from our leafy downtown streets in order to lay new sidewalks. That was unfortunate, and I grieved.
Now, lindens are beautiful trees. Not the most beautiful, to me – beeches are. “It seemed a mere toss-up whether she said, ‘I love you,’ or whether she said, ‘I love the beech-trees,’ or only ‘I love—I love.’” That’s Virginia Woolf, one of my favorite writers, from Night and Day. We know that people since time immemorial have fallen for beech trees, their smooth grey bark, eminently useful for leaving your mark.
Thoreau said, ”I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.” I like to think of some lost soul tramping miles through a mysterious, tangled forest, too shy to unburden himself to the person he cares for, and surreptitiously taking switchblade out of pocket to pronounce, on bark, indelibly, the sentiment I love-I love.
So beeches are great. But lindens come pretty close, with their heart-shaped leaves, their dangling bracts, their grey-grooved bark.
Everyone deserves to have a favorite tree the way everyone deserves to have a favorite birthday cake.
Yours might be a yellow sponge cake, mine might be a fudge tunnel cake. Or a strawberry cake–the best kind, made Southern-style with white cake mix, jello and oleomargarine. Or even a gourmet hazelnut torte. It’s up to you.
You might be a birch person.
Perhaps flouncy cherries do it for you. They can be pretty irresistible at their peak.
Or you might have a thing for the alligator juniper, the species that favors coming together with other alligator junipers for a little pleaching party.
You might even favor the saggy, baggy London plane, a sentinel of our city streets.
If you live in the southwest, you might eschew real trees altogether in favor of the imposter saguaro, which also stands sentinel, though in deserts. That’s your right.
In any case, you need to protect what you love. Probably for a lot of people reading Richard Powers’ Pulitzer-winning novel The Overstory, the term tree hugger might resonate. What about the original tree huggers? In 1730, 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnoi branch of Hinduism took it upon themselves to shield the trees in their Indian village from being mowed down for a palace, and were massacred by foresters. They literally clung to the trees, and died for their bravery. Happy ending, the government decreed there would be no tree cutting in any Bishnoi village, and now the place is a green oasis amid an otherwise barren landscape.
That story sounds like it might be a little burnished by time. But the next chapter of tree huggerism is indisputable. A group of peasant women in the 1970s in the Himalayan hills of northern India took inspiration from those earlier folks when they fought to have the trees in the vicinity preserved, throwing their arms around the trunks to do so. This was the Chipko movement. “Chipko” means “to cling” in Hindi.
They had success; before long there was a tree-felling moratorium in Himalaya. The tactic, called tree satyagraha, had spread across India and forced reforms.
Satyagraha! The original boat rockers.
The future is vast, and we don’t know what awaits us. But one thing is for sure. It feels good to save a tree, a large old linden that wasn’t doing anybody any harm. It was just being beautiful. And will go on being beautiful. If I have anything to say about it.